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Margaret M. McCarthy, PhD

James and Carolyn Frenkil Dean's Professor

Academic Title:


Primary Appointment:


Secondary Appointment(s):

Physiology, Administration, Psychiatry

Administrative Title:

Chair, Department of Pharmacology; Director of the University of Maryland - Medicine Institute of Neuroscience Discovery (UM-MIND)


HSF I Rm. 580-G

Phone (Primary):

(410) 706-2655


(410) 706-8341

Education and Training

  • University of Missouri, BS, Biology, 1981
  • University of Missouri, MA, Biology, 1984
  • Rutgers University, PhD, Behavioral Neuroscience, 1989
  • Rockefeller University, Postdoctoral Study, Neurobiology, 1992
  • National Institutes of Health, National Research Council Fellow, Neurogenetics, 1993


Dr. McCarthy is a leading neuroscientist who has made significant discoveries related to gender differences and the brain. Her seminal research focuses on the influence of steroid hormones on the developing brain with a special emphasis on understanding the cellular mechanisms that establish sex differences—that is, the numerous, novel mechanisms (including roles for prostaglandins, endocannabinoids, amino acid transmitters, and multiple enzymes) by which steroids permanently organize the developing brain differently in males and females.

Dr. McCarthy conducted some of the first studies on how steroid hormones can imprint epigenetically on the developing brain to organize differences between males and females in adult physiology and behavior. More recently, her laboratory generated a paradigm shift in understanding of sexual differentiation of sexual behavior with the discovery that the feminization program of development requires suppression of the masculinization program via DNA methylation, and that steroid hormones emancipate the male gene expression profile by reducing activity of DNA methylating enzymes.

Her laboratory has also studied inflammatory and immune-mediated sex differences in the brain, sensitive periods in brain development, neurogenesis in the postnatal brain, and the role of GABA in brain differences. By increasing understanding of how the brain develops differently in males and females, Dr. McCarthy has revealed both naturally occurring variation as well as highlight points of vulnerability and nodes for intervention in treatment of developmental neuropsychiatric disorders with a gender bias.

Research/Clinical Keywords

Neuroendocrinology, postnatal brain development, steroid hormone action, sex differences, epigenetics, neuroinflammation, neonatal hypoxia ischemia, behavior, neurohypophyseal hormones, endocannabinoids, amino acid transmitters, postnatal neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, astrocytes, microglia and mast cells.

Highlighted Publications

Nugent BM, Wright CL, Shetty AC, Hodes GE, Lenz KM, Mahurkar A, Russo SJ, Devine SE, McCarthy MM. (2015) Brain feminization requires active repression of masculinization via DNA methylation. Nature Neuroscience. 18(5):690-7. PubMed PMID: 25821913.

M.M. McCarthy, AP Auger, TL Bale, GJ De Vries, GA Dunn, NG Forger, EK Murray, BM Nugent, JM Schwarz and ME Wilson (2009) Mini-Symposium - The epigenetics of sex differences in the brain. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(41):12815–12823. PMCID: PMC2788155

Bowers, JM, Waddell, J, McCarthy, MM (2010). A developmental sex difference in hippocampal neurogenesis is mediated by endogenous estradiol. Biology of Sex Differences, 1:(1):8. PMCID: PMC3016241

K.M. Lenz, B.M. Nugent, R. Haliyur and M.M. McCarthy (2013) Microglia are essential to masculinization of brain and behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(7):2761–2772. PMCID: PMC3727162.

Joel D, McCarthy MM (2016) Incorporating sex as a biological variable in neuropsychiatric research: Where are we now and where should we be? Neuropsychopharmacology in press, PMID: 27240659

Awards and Affiliations

  • Member, National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup: Setting Priorities for the Basic Sciences of Mental Health of the NIMH, 2004 – present
  • Associate Editor, Hormones and Behavior, 2004 – present
  • Associate Editor, Journal of Neuroscience, 2007 – 2011
  • Editor, Endocrinology, 2008 – 2013
  • Advisory Board Member, eNeuro, 2015 – present
  • Researcher of the Year, University of Maryland Baltimore 2016

Previous Positions

  • Research Assistant, University of Missouri Medical School, Columbia, Missouri, 1979 – 1983
  • Research Fellow, Institute of Animal Behavior, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, 1984 – 1989
  • Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, 1985 – 1989  
  • Postdoctoral Associate, Rockefeller University, New York, 1989 – 1992  
  • National Research Council Fellow, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland, 1992 – 1993
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, 1993 – 1998
  • Associate Professor, Department of Physiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, 1998 – 2002
  • Professor, Department of Physiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore

2002 – Present

  • Director of Graduation Education and Associate Director, Program in Neuroscience, University of Maryland, Baltimore, 2002 – 2005
  • Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore

2005 – 2009

  • Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore

2009 – 2011

  • Chair, Department of Pharmacology, University of Maryland, Baltimore